The Souvenir: Part II

The Souvenir: Part II ★★★★

The opening of The Souvenir Part II follows on from where Part I left off, with Julie still grieving the death of her boyfriend, Anthony. However, it doesn’t take long for the second instalment of Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical diptych to re-focus proceedings on Julie’s emergence as a filmmaker. Having suckled vicariously on the experience of Anthony’s heroin addiction and demise, Julie’s finally ready to express herself. For the first time we see a young woman putting down the barrier of her camera and stepping forward to communicate something of her life - a life that before Anthony had been lived in the cotton wool sanctuary of privilege. The pain she’s since endured has turned her into a person, with keen perspectives, and with these, she at last has something of substance to channel through her art. 

The mirroring of Part I is beautifully judged in this follow up. In the first film Julie was only tangentially committed to the film school, dipping in and out of it without conviction. Her relationship with Anthony was all consuming, and just as he leeched off her wealth and naivety, so did she leech off his experience. His death was the making of her because it provoked in her a level of feeling that she had previously been shielded from, and because it released her from the obsessive inundation of their relationship. 

What I find fascinating about The Souvenir Part II is that it plays out so differently to its predecessor. The first film was a free-flowing, almost inexorable study of the couple’s relationship, but Part II feels more fragmented. It’s as though Julie’s identity has splintered into shards, and she’s suddenly seeing life reflected through different points of view. She becomes more adventurous with other men, her relationship to her mother becomes more empathetic, and she discovers the self-assurance needed to hold her ground in the face of her male tutors’ and DP’s condescension towards her more free-associative ideas. What we’re seeing, then, is a young woman emerging as a director, but she’s also rebuilding herself as a person. She’s embracing the fractured complexities of her life through a newfound willingness to take risks, which without Anthony’s lead, she might never have been able to do. 

If Part I was about the accumulation of experience, Part II is about the unburdening of it. The film follows the making of her film, which unfolds as a thinly disguised fantasia of what we saw play out in Part I. This casts a fascinating mirror on the nature of fiction, serving up something that is clearly fabricated, yet nevertheless recognisably integral. The meta-fictional beats extend further when it comes to the screening of the completed film. After the opening credits roll, what we get is Julie’s mind’s eye version of the film she’s just made, rather than the literal film adaptation of the lives we saw depicted in Part I. The view we see is the one she could never have hoped reflect in anything so prosaic as a screenplay, let alone a finished film. What we are privileged to be shown is the fertile meeting point of her memories and imagination, where the mythologising of Anthony lives on, and through which she channels a heady fiction of her reality. It’s ultimately an exercise in prismatic filmmaking of the highest order.

The final scene wraps everything up beautifully, pulling back from a party at her apartment only for us to discover it is a scene being shot on a soundstage. It suggests that, at last, she has found her home within the world of film. 

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